When Bill and Beda McKinney took over running the Powerline food station some 30 years ago, the American Birkebeiner cross country ski race started in downtown Hayward and finished at Telemark Lodge.  In that direction, the Powerline was the last food stop on the course.

Today the Birkie runs in the opposite direction, and the Powerline food station is the first stop on the course, four and a half kilometers into the race, as the trail veers to the south into the woods and winds toward Hayward.  And Bill and Beda’s son Scott and his wife now manage food station #1.

“If I didn’t do (the food stop), I’d have to do the Birkie,” Scott McKinney joked.  McKinney skied the Korteloppet in 1997, the stickers of that race still on his skis, and he was also signed up for the 2000 Birkebeiner, but that was the only Birkie ever cancelled, and so he has never skied the long race.  But he has been at the Powerline handing out water and donuts holes since his high school days when his parents ran the show.

“The Birkie’s a huge part of our community, and we want to support the events that shape our community,” McKinney said, who operates McKinney Realty in Cable with Stacey.

Linda Steavenson volunteered at the first Birkebeiner in 1973 at a food station near the Phipps Tavern a few miles north of Hayward.  At the time, the race course ran on top of the plowed up snow in the ditch alongside Phipps Road.  “I knew Dave (Landgraf) and Ernie (St. Germaine), and they were going to do it, so I said why not,” Steavenson said.  She remembers dropping them at the start line and how the car smelled of pine tar from their wooden skis.

According to Steavenson, who now works as an administrative assistant in the Birkie office, there were only two or three volunteers at the Phipps food station for those first few races.  The gap between the skiers were so long she remembers doing snow angels between skiers.  “We had blueberry soup back then,” she said.  “I know because I had it all over my jacket.”

As the race has grown, so has the need for volunteers.  The McKinneys oversee a crew of over 70 volunteers that work at the Powerline food station, one of eight total food stations in both the Birkebeiner and Korteloppet.  “We have volunteers that I don’t see at any other time of the year,” McKinney said.  “They come religiously, many of them from out of town.”

According to McKinney, many of his volunteers head south to other volunteer duties since all but a handful of skiers have passed through Food Station #1 by 11 a.m.  Volunteering is a way for those who can’t ski the race or chose not to ski the race to participate in the Birkebeiner.

Patti Rumler, who coordinates the volunteers out of the Birkie office, says Hayward is a “volunteer-oriented community.”  The town starts buzzing on Wednesday of race week, and people want to get involved and be outside.  “It kind of beats the winter doldrums,” she said.

The communities of Hayward and Cable also lend themselves – their roads, buildings and public service.  Hayward offers a Main Street finish, bib pickup at Hayward High School and the warmth of the Amory at the finish line.  Community members open their homes to skiers and spectators.  Local businesses help out, for example volunteers are sponsored by Timber Ford of Hayward and that the Volunteer Dinner is sponsored by Timber Ford and the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital.

The ABSF provides stipends to groups offering their help, such as school and church groups, as well as service groups, like the Lions Club.  The Butternut Cheerleaders used their stipend for assisting the ABSF to defray the costs of their uniforms.

Without the thousands of volunteers and the support of the community, there would be no American Birkebeiner.  Imagine the race without volunteers plowing parking lots, stuffing 10,000 bib packets or providing security and medical help.  “’Thanks volunteers’ – we hear that a lot,” said McKinney.  Yes, thank you, volunteers.

Walk-on volunteers are always welcome.  Contact Patti Rumler at patti.rumler@birkie.com or call the office at 715.634.5025 for more information about volunteer opportunities.  The Birkie website also has a page for interested volunteers

Posted January 24, 2015 at 8:45 am